FDA look into 2018 E. coli outbreak could impact CAFOs
By Jim Bradbury, attorney with James D. Bradbury, PLLC and Chandler Schmitz, student, Texas A&M University School of Law
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigators are in southwestern Arizona investigating the theory that a large CAFO located near produce fields could be the source of the 2018 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that affected romaine lettuce. Officials believe the affected romaine lettuce was produced in Yuma, Arizona, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab testing revealed the E. coli strain was present in canal water samples taken from the area.
While the exact cause of the outbreak is yet unknown, what is clear is that the agency’s findings in this matter could significantly impact the agriculture industry. The FDA considers a possible explanation for this contamination to be that contaminated water came into contact with produce through either direct irrigation or by another means. While the FDA asserts it has considered other options, the agency has noted the close proximity of the canal waters that tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 to a nearby large CAFO. The FDA noted that data showed a cluster of romaine lettuce farms also were located near this canal.
Although the FDA did not identify the CAFO by name, it is believed to be the McElhaney Feedyard located in Wellton, Arizona, a town about 30 miles east of Yuma. The McElhaney Feedlot also happens to be located near a prime area for growing leafy greens, such as romaine lettuce.
As the FDA continues its investigation, the “leafy greens” produce industry is taking proactive steps to prevent such an outbreak from recurring, including the recent decision to expand the distance between CAFOs and growing fields from 400 feet to 1,200 feet. These changes are likely to mark the beginning of other changes for produce and animal agriculture.
CAFOs should stay aware of the developments in this investigation, as the results may have significant impacts on animal agriculture operations.